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Study advocates end to mandatory public safety retirement ages.

A federally commissioned study due to be officially delivered to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the next couple of weeks will recommend against continuing use of mandatory retirement ages for public safety employees and substituting performance based physical and mental tests. Until December 31, 1993 federal law permits the use of mandatory retirement ages for public safety employees if such requirements were in effect on March 3, 1983.

In the absence of action by Congress before January 1, 1994, cities will be subject to employee lawsuits and complaints under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by public safety employees where mandatory retirement ages continue to exist and will be confronted with a federally financed study that says, "the public well being is better served by a testing regimen than by a chronological age decision rule when it comes to retirement decisions."

Some concerns which this change will raise for cities are:

[section] the cost and time required to develop and administer validated job-related physical and mental testing programs,

[section] the impact on existing and new collective bargaining agreement,

[section] examination and revision of public employee retirement system,

[section] questions about whether the discharge of a public safety employee upon failure to pass relevant physical test will result in an increased incidence of claims for disability retirements by public safety employees, and [section] an apparent barring of maximum entry ages (such as age 40) that are frequently now used in public safety jobs.

Background

When the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was amended in 1986 to make any mandatory retirement age illegal, an exemption was created for fire fighters, police officers and correctional officers extending until December 31, 1993. These exemptions were created as a result of public safety concerns and were supported by NLC and other local government groups as well as organizations representing public safety employees.

Rep. Austin Murphy (D-Pa.), who sponsored the House amendment in 1986, argued at that time that," ... we should not replace our opinion" for that of local jurisdictions, "in saying that people who are 87 years of age or 90 years of age should be chasing drug smugglers down the street."

The amendment further went on to require that the Labor Department and EEOC jointly conduct a study "to determine whether physical and mental tests are valid measurements of the ability and competency of police officers and firefighters to perform the requirements of their jobs" and "which particular tests most effectively measure such ability and competency".

The EEOC was also charged with proposing by October 31, 1991 guidelines for the "administration and use of physical and mental fitness tests to measure the ability and competency of police officers and firefighters to perform the requirements of their jobs."

The Study

The EEOC contracted with a team headed by Doctor Frank J. Landy of the Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences at Penn State University to perform the first study of whether physical and mental tests can be valid indicators of public safety job performance.

While the study has not yet been filed with EEOC, Landy presented some of the major findings of the research at a Science Writers Conference sponsored by the American Psychological Association on January 16, in Washington D.C.

The question examined was whether there were test that would be equally good predictors of employee performance, "that would not have as disproportionate an effect on older workers as chronological age."

The study concentrated on two types of potential risk to public safety from older public safety officers. The risk of (1) a catastrophic medical evnt (such as a stroke or heart attack) causing sudden incapacitation or (2) the risks arising from a more gradual decline in abilities.

In examining the catastrophic situations the researchers examined the occurence rates of such conditions and further considered: the limited amount of time when a public safety employee is performing tasks where the public safety is immediately at risk and concluded that this could be expressed in minutes per month, that because of back-up (involvement of multipel employees at a public safety threatening event) the incapacity of a single employee would not pose an irreparable risk to the public. For example, Landy said a catastrophic health event affecting an employee of a 500 member public safety department in the midst of a threatening event would happen only once every 25 years.

The Labor Department and EEOC have yet to determine the processes they will use to review and consider the study when it is submitted.
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Author:Peterson, Doug
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 20, 1992
Words:751
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